Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kotopoulo me Kappari kai Pilafi me Fide -- Chicken Roasted with Capers and Rice-Fide Pilaf

I have a strange affinity for capers. I love their briney, tart taste and when cooking with them I often leave a handful out to just nibble on while dinner simmers. My husband, on the other hand, is not at all keen on these little green buds, so he pushes them to the side whenever he sees them in his dish.

I'm pretty sure most people have seen or eaten capers before, but just in case you were curious to know: Capers are the unripened flower buds of Capparis Spinosa, a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. Once harvested, the buds are dried in the sun, then pickled in vinegar, brine or salt. According to sources, the caper was used in Ancient Greece as a carminative. Etymologically, the caper and different versions of the word in several European languages can be traced back to the Latin capparis, still some say that that term is in turn borrowed from the Greek κάππαρις. Another theory I read of, links κάππαρις/kápparis to the name of the island of Cyprus (Κύπρος, Kýpros), where capers grow abundantly.

Capers pair well with fish and chicken but I've also used them in a great parsley sauce over a simply roasted cut of beef ... and the results were divine. But I'll save that dish for a later date.

Today, I'm focusing on this chicken dish. I simply took some whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick attached), dressed them with a lime and caper marinade, then roasted them to perfection. On the side I served a pilaf of rice and Greek Fide (nests of thin pasta--i.e. vermicelli) that I infused with lime.

Kotopoulo Me Kappari --
Chicken Roasted with Capers

4 whole chicken legs, skin on
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons capers
2 garlic cloves, minced
Hefty pinch of dried Greek oregano
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped (optional)

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Place in a roasting pan.

Whisk together the lime juice, capers, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and then slowly add the oil in a steady stream. Once well combined, pour over the chicken legs and allow the chicken to sit in the marinade for about half hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spoon the sauce over the chicken; add a little water to the roasting pan if necessary; and place in the oven for about 45 minutes or until golden.

Serve sprinkled with parsley alongside the Rice-Fide Pilaf with some extra sauce from the pan poured on top.

Lime-Infused Rice & Fide Pilaf

In a medium saucepan, heat a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon or so of olive oil over medium heat. Add a handful of Fide (breaking it up with your fingers as you add it to the pan). Saute the Fide until golden and nutty; quickly toss in about 1 1/2 cups rice and give it a good stir. Add about 3 cups of water, plenty of salt and some freshly ground pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Before covering, add a lime half (which you've already squeezed for your chicken marinade); cover the saucepan; reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 22 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and after a couple of minutes stir the pilaf and serve.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pasxa/Easter 2009

Christos Anesti!
Easter is my favorite holiday of all. From the start of Lent on Clean Monday to Easter Sunday, the days are rich with meaning and purpose. And each year, I can't help but feel a distinct sense of renewal as we partake in all the religious traditions, the cultural celebrations and the family gatherings associated with this beautiful holiday.

Holy Week symbolizes an important week of religious observances and preparations for the holiday; there are church services held twice daily and on some days morning, afternoon and evening. In our family, we attend church on Palm Sunday and then enjoy the traditional bakaliaro and skordalia at my parents' home. On Holy Wednesday we attend church for The Sacrament of Holy Unction. On Holy Thursday we dye our eggs the traditional shade of red symbolizing the blood of Christ and then attend church that night to hear the 12 Gospel readings and to venerate the crucifix. The afternoon of Good Friday, a day of strict fasting, we attend The Vespers services where the body of Christ is taken down from the cross, shrouded, then carried around the church and placed on the Epitaphio adorned with beautiful flowers and foliage. That evening we follow--along with hundreds of parishioners--the Epitaphio in a procession of mourning around the neighborhood of our church. Finally on Great Saturday we again attend church early in the morning to receive communion and that night (just before midnight) we all gather in the church's courtyard, the children with their decorated Lambades (Easter candles) and the adults with simple wax candles, and await to hear our priest begin singing the Hymn of Resurrection, Christos Anesti (Christ has Risen), as the clock strikes twelve and the holy light makes its way through the congregation as candle after candle is lit. From there we go home to break the fast and enjoy a feast of Patsa (tripe soup), fried liver and sweetbreads, cheeses, salad, etc. before going to bed and awakening renewed and refreshed to celebrate Easter Sunday.

The preparation of our lamb begins on Great Saturday. For many, many generations we have followed the traditional way of making lamb on this special occasion. This rich lamb dish is known as Mouri on the island of Kalymnos and it is something I began making a few years ago after I was first married, following in the footsteps of my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before them. Mouri consists of a whole lamb stuffed with a mixture of rice, ground meat, chopped lamb liver, tomato, pine nuts, onion and plenty of cinnamon. Traditionally, the stuffed lamb is placed in an outdoor oven and sealed to cook slowly beginning early Great Saturday, through the night and onto the early morning of Easter. It is then unsealed to reveal fragrant, utterly moist lamb meat accompanied by a flavorful stuffing infused with all the flavors of the lamb itself as well. This is a rustic dish with no pretentions, just wonderful flavors that bring on a flood of emotions and memories with every bite as it has been made with such care and love for so long.

We improvise, of course, as we don't have an outdoor brick oven (yet!) and we cook our lamb in our regular oven within an enormous roasting pan sealed well with aluminum foil. The aroma of the lamb slowly cooking from Great Saturday is indescribable. You can view a short video of a lamb being stuffed on Kalymnos here.

As it was my husband's name day, we hosted Easter here at home. It turned out to be a nice Spring day here in New York and we got to enjoy some Kokoretsi (seasoned lamb or goat sweetbreads, heart, liver and/or kidney skewered, wrapped in the animal's small intestine and roasted), a simple Bacon and Onion Tart, some Herbed Goat Cheese atop Greek Rusks, an Olive and Caper Tapenade, Anchovies and Fresh Baked Bread in our backyard while the children played on the lawn.

We moved inside to enjoy the Mouri accompanied by Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms tossed in butter and parsley and an amazing Lettuce, Fennel, Parsley and Dill Salad with a Honey Vinaigrette inspired from a recipe on the Greek web site, Kathimerini.

Bacon and Onion Tart (see the recipe here)

Herbed Goat Cheese on Greek Rusks


Chicken Kabobs (for the [very] few non-lamb eaters)

Mouri (stuffed lamb)

This is a great video highlighting some of the rituals and traditions of Easter practiced on the island of Kalymnos (basically throughout Greece and by all Greeks across the globe):
Pasxa sthn Kalymno

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kali Anastasi

Kali Anastasi kai Kalo Pascha!
Happy Easter -- health, love and happiness to all!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Savvato tou Lazarou--Saturday of Lazarus

My fondest and most vibrant childhood memories are almost always centered around my family's Easter preparations and celebrations. So many emotions come flooding back with a mere glimpse of all the women in the family gathered around the kitchen table making koulourakia on Holy Monday; with all the children coloring eggs in vibrant primary colors as used in Greece early on Holy Thursday; with the entire family getting ready to walk over to our church on Good Friday to follow the procession of the "Epitaphio"; with the men carrying in the baby lamb on Great and Holy Saturday; with the aroma--oh that aroma!--of the lamb roasting away in the oven from late afternoon on Great Saturday through to Easter Sunday; and with the entire family standing outside the church courtyard Saturday night until midnight, the flame from the church altar making its way down to all the faithful gripping their lambades/candles and singing the Easter hymn, "Christos Anesti."

These are among my most sacred memories and just a few of the highlights of our preparations for Pascha ... I hope to describe more of our traditions and customs throughout the coming week. For today, however, I would like to share the tradition of Lazarakia, Lenten breads flavored with cinnamon and cloves.

On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church observes a feast commemorating the miracle performed by Christ in raising Lazarus from the dead. As such, families partake in a tradition of kneading and baking Lenten breads shaped into small men symbolizing Lazarus. I can still clearly recall sitting as a young girl near my Giagia as she kneaded and punched the cinnamon-scented dough and then rolled it out into little Lazarakia. She would slice the dough in the middle towards the bottom to create two legs; then slice on either side of the torso to create two arms which she'd wrap towards the front and secure with a clove; lastly she'd roll out a ball to form the head, roll out a thin rope to wrap around the head as a headdress and place two cloves as Lazarus' eyes. She'd then cover the baking sheets with clean blankets and let the breads rise before baking.

I made our Lazarakia this morning with my daughter and son beside me--my daughter rolling out her own dough and my son handing me the cloves as needed. Memories of my Giagia filled my head and I'm sure she was looking down on us with a smile just then.

Hronia Polla kai Kali Anastasi!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sikoti me Kremmydia kai Hilopites--Calf's Liver with Caramelized Onions over Egg Pasta

Want a meal packed with flavor and vitamins that's ready in mere minutes? I sure do and that's why I turned to this dish the other night when trying to put together a healthy meal for my husband and children while simultaneously working on two cake orders.

To be honest, growing up I only enjoyed liver on Holy Saturday, when we'd break the fast held throughout Lent with a meal including fried sweetbreads, fried liver and patsa (tripe soup). As an adult, I still enjoy it on this sacred holiday but also like to include liver in my diet, and my family's for that matter, on other occasions as well.

This dish is a great way to do that and I urge you to try it. The caramelized onions lend a wonderful dimension of flavor to the liver and the wine takes the sauce to another level altogether. I served this over hilopites, a Greek egg pasta, but you can easily serve it over rice or mashed potatoes.

Sikoti me Kremmydia Kai Hilopites--Calf's Liver and Caramelized Onions over Egg Pasta
Makes 4 servings

1 1/4 pound piece calf's liver, rinsed and sliced into strips
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup sherry or marsala
1/2 pound Hilopites, cooked, drained and tossed with butter

Heat oil in a large skillet, add onions and season with salt. Stir and cook over high heat until softened. Cover skillet, turn heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile season the liver slices with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add liver to the skillet and saute until browned on both sides. Remove liver and onions to a bowl and keep warm. Set the skillet over high heat and deglaze with the wine. Serve the liver and onions over the hilopites with some sauce spooned on top.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ouzo Mezedes, Part II

Anise-flavored ouzo pairs well with seafood, so it was a given that octopus, shrimp, mussels and some small fish would have to make up the menu for our Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Greek Ouzo Tasting ... in New York. There were also some chicken kabobs, sauteed potatoes, manitaropita (mushroom pie) and much more for guests to munch on as they sipped their ouzo. So here's the last installment (finally!) of Ouzo Mezedes we served:

Garides se Kantaifi me Pikantiki Magioneza--Shrimp Wrapped in Kataifi with Spicy Remoulade
(Shrimp in Kataifi adapted from a recipe in Gastronomos)

1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
3 teaspoons ouzo
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 lbs. jumbo peeled shrimp, with their tails on
1/2 pound kataifi, thawed
Olive oil for frying

Combine the first five ingredients in a bowl; add shrimp and marinate for about 15 minutes.

Heat about an inch of olive oil in a dutch oven. Take a few strands of kataifi and begin wrapping the shrimp, leaving the tails unwrapped and tightening the kataifi as much as possible around the shrimp. Add immediately to the hot oil and fry until the kataifi is golden, turning once. Drain on paper towels and serve warm with the remoulade.

For the remoulade, combine 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons chopped capers, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon chopped tarragon, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 finely chopped anchovies, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, salt, pepper and a dash of Tabasco. Stir well and adjust seasonings. Serve with shrimp wrapped in kataifi or any other seafood dish.

Kotopoulo me Piperies kai Kremmydakia--Chicken Kabobs

Whole chicken breasts, about 4
1 large green pepper, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 large red pepper, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 pound pearl onions, peeled and left whole
Juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Wooden skewers

Remove skin from the chicken and slice breast off the bone. Cut into large chunks (1 to 1 1/2 inches) and place in a large bowl or dish. Stir in the pepper chunks, the pear onions, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil. Toss to coat the chicken well; cover and marinate overnight.

Turn broiler on low. Thread chicken onto skewers; beginning with a piece of chicken, then adding some pepper, chicken, onion/pepper and finally chicken (or as much as your skewers can hold). Line the skewers on a baking sheet and place under the broiler for just less than five minutes per side, until the chicken and veggies get a nice color. Place on a heated platter, squeeze more lemon juice over, garnish with lemon slices and serve hot.

Sardela me Ntomata kai Kapari--Sardines with Tomato and Capers

1/3 cup olive oil
2 to 2.5 pounds whole sardines, cleaned
2 large tomatoes, finely diced or 1 cup canned
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon capers
1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

In a large oven-proof skillet heat the oil and stir in the capers. Once heated through, add half the garlic and saute until fragrant. Stir in the tomatoes and half the parsley, lower the heat and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place sardines into the skillet ad spoon some sauce over. Sprinkle with the remaining garlic, parsley and finally the breadcrumbs. Place the skillet in the oven for about 25 minutes or so.

Midia Saganaki--Mussels Saganaki

3 pounds mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1 cup dry red wine
1 26.5 ounce box chopped tomatoes
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat and add the onion, garlic and bell pepper. Saute until softened and stir in the oregano. Add the wine and boil for about a minute. Stir in the tomatoes, bring to a boil season with salt and pepper, turn the heat to low and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the mussels to the pot, cover and turn the heat a little higher. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, or until the mussels have opened. Just before serving, stir in the feta cheese and parsley. Adjust the seasonings and serve warm.

Patates me Paprika kai Elies--Potatoes with Paprika and Kalamata Olives

1/3 cup olive oil
4 to 5 large potatoes, peeled, sliced into thick rounds and seasoned with salt and pepper
2 medium onions, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
Paprika, to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/3 cup Kalamata olive, pitted and halved
Small bunch parsley, finely chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet and saute potatoes until golden. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a minute or so, shaking the skillet occasionally instead of stirring (as you'll break apart the potatoes if you do). Add the paprika, salt, pepper and a little water to the skillet. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes more, until your potatoes are done. Toss in the olives and heat through. Sprinkle with parsley and additional paprika before serving.


1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds mushrooms, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons ouzo
Small bunch parsley, chopped
1 cup crumbled Feta
2 eggs, beaten
1 stick of butter, melted
12 to 15 sheets of phyllo

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet heat the olive oil and saute the mushrooms until softened. Add the onion and the garlic and stir until fragrant. With the heat still on high, add the ouzo and allow to nearly evaporate. Remove skillet from heat and set aside to cool slightly. Stir in the parsley, feta and eggs and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Brush a 13x9-inch baking dish with butter and begin layering 8 to 10 sheets of phyllo, brushing each sheet with butter before adding the next. Add the filling to the baking dish and begin layering the remaining phyllo over top, brushing each sheet with butter as well. Fold the overlapping edges of the top and bottom phyllo sheets together to form a "crust." Brush top and crust with butter and bake int he oven until golden (45 minutes).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ouzo Mezedes, Part I

For my Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Greek Ouzo Tasting ... in New York, I wanted to "abide" by the traditional way of serving ouzo: alongside an array of mezedes to help ease down the strong aperitif. Htapodokeftedes (octopus croquettes) are a delicacy on the island of Kalymnos, from which my family hails. I've enjoyed htapodokeftedes on the island a number of times but never anywhere else. This was my first time making them at home, but definitely not my last ... these flavorful mezedes were much easier than they seem and a hit with our guests.

I also wanted to incorporate a version of a traditional Kalymnian salad called mirmizeli that combines bread rusks moistened with olive oil and tossed with fresh sliced tomato, crumbled goat cheese and thrimbi (similar to dried savory). As such, I made a more ouzo-friendly meze using crostini, tomato and goat cheese. There were also some savory olive oil biscotti sprinkled with black pepper and grated parmesan as well as a creamy taramosalata, great starters for a night of ouzo.

Kali Orexi ... and be sure to stay tuned for the next installment of recipes from our ouzo party!

Htapodokeftedes (Octopus Croquettes)
Makes about 25 to 30

3.5 to 4 lbs. octopus (I used about 7 smaller octopus), cleaned
3 scallions, 1 scallion left whole and 2 finely chopped
2 sprigs tarragon
Small bunch parsley, 2 sprigs left whole, the rest finely chopped
10 to 12 whole black peppercorns
1 loaf of stale bread, crusts removed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
2 large eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Bread crumbs as needed
1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
Olive oil for frying

Place the cleaned octopus in a stock pot, cover with water, add the tarragon, 1 scallion, a couple sprigs of parsley and the peppercorns. If using smaller octopus they should turn out much more tender than a larger octopus, however, add a cork to the stockpot as well for good measure. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove octopus from the pot and cool slightly.

Coarsely chop the octopus and place in a food processor. Pulse until the octopus is finely chopped. Remove the octopus to a large bowl. Cut the stale bread into large chunks, moisten with some water and squeeze with your hands to remove any excess liquid. Add it to the octopus along with the onions, garlic, remaining parsley, scallions, oregano and eggs. Mix well. Add some breadcrumbs until the mixture becomes firm enough to later be rolled into balls. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to four.

Heat about an inch of olive oil in a dutch oven until quite hot. Shape the octopus mixture into bite-size balls and roll lightly in the flour. Fry the octopus croquettes a few at a time, turning once, until evenly browned (a few minutes is all they need). Serve warm with wedges of lemon.

(Carp Roe Dip)

2 large potatoes, peeled and boiled
1 small onion, halved
3 heaping tablespoons carp roe
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil

Combine the potatoes, onion, carp roe and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. With the motor running, begin adding the olive oil until desired consistency is achieved.

Olive Oil and Parmesan Biscotti
(Adapted from a recipe on

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, ground
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1/3 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, 3/4 cup cheese and a little over half the black pepper in a large bowl. Blend in oil and butter with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the eggs, add the milk and continue stirring until a soft dough forms.

Halve the dough and using well-floured hands, form each piece into a log (about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide) and place on un-greased cookie sheets.

Sprinkle evenly with remaining 1/4 cup cheese and the ground pepper. Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until the logs are pale golden and firm, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool about 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Carefully transfer logs to a cutting board and with a serrated knife cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices, cut sides down, in 1 layer on baking sheets. Bake, turning over once, until golden and crisp, 35 to 45 minutes total. Cool and store in an airtight container for up to one week.

Crostini with Tomato and Goat Cheese

4 vine ripe tomatoes, sliced thin
Small log goat cheese, cut into 16 slices
16 crostini or wheat rusks
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Drizzle the crostini with a little olive oil. Top the crostini with the sliced goat cheese and then layer with the tomato slices. Drizzle a little more olive oil over each tomato-topped crostini and season with salt and pepper.